Choose These Shoes to Wear to Work to Steer Clear of Knee, Ankle and Foot Pain
Which Shoes Would You Wear to Work?
Make the wrong choice and you may be setting yourself up for a lifetime of foot pain.
According to Kelly Starrett and a handful of medical studies, wearing the wrong footwear can cause knee pain, foot pain and ankle pain, much of it due to shortened heel cords and improper functioning of the foot.
When I head out the door for work, I have a choice of footwear to wear. I used to wear these
beautiful leather ones. Not only did these make me a little bit taller, but they were leather.
Leather shoes are proven to make women like me more, and we could all use a little boost to our egos. I have gotten tons of compliments on these shoes. Now, that’s more than enough reason for most of us to just continue wearing these shoes and go on with our lives.
I’m not satisfied with good enough, though. I enjoy wearing things that make me look attractive, but I put a higher preference on things that make me comfortable and optimize my health and longevity. I would rather be comfortable and live a long and healthy life than look good to others. Of course, if there’s a way to have both, then I’m all in.
For the last few years, those beautiful leather shoes have been stowed in my closet and may never make another appearance at work. It all has to do with that heel.
High Heels aren’t Just For Women
We may think that high heels are only for women and men don’t have to worry about heels, at least barring the men who like to wear women’s high heeled shoes. But we would be wrong.
Men, listen up. Check out those heels on my leather dress shoes and the more traditional pair above. Yes, that’s a significant heel in a men’s shoe.
In fact, check out the heels on the running and athletic shoes you have in your gym bag.
Men and women’s athletic shoes may not appear to have heels in the same obvious way my leather ones do, but most athletic shoes come with a huge heel cushion, causing the heel to be higher than the toes. Take a look at these athletic shoes and notice the difference between the height of the heel and the toe. You’ll notice that the heel cushion causes the toe to be sloped down.
Even these minimalist looking men’s dress shoes have a much higher heel than toe.
While we may not think of men wearing high heels, in fact many of us men ARE wearing high heels. Like it or not, most of the shoes we all wear do have heels, in that the heel of our foot is much higher than our toe.
What’s wrong with Heel Cushions
Heels in dress shoes may be fashionable but are likely easy to do away with, for men. But what about the heel cushion in athletic footwear. That heel cushion is what causes the heel to be higher than the toe, but it also cushions the heel during the impact of a run, jump or lift.
Dr. Kelly Starrett, a physical therapist, crossfit gym owner and advocate for wearing flat shoes makes the point that the time we spend in shoes with significant heels causes the tissues in the lower leg to shorten and form into states of poor mobility. He likens shoes with heels, including athletic shoes to Chinese foot binding.
It all adds up. We are wearing these heels essentially from birth, our heel chords shorten and never receive the range of motion in normal daily activity that they should. It’s like wearing a cast on your foot. Then, when we play a sport or go for a run, we ask these tissues to handle a greater stress and range of motion than they have been adapted to and this can cause pain and injury.
A 2014 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise considered the common practices of runners in regards to heel-raised footwear and found that those wearing cushioned heel running shoes with a heel offset of 10mm above the toe caused increased stress to the Achilles. A 6-10mm offset in heel height is common in most athletic shoes.
While cushioning in running, work and dress shoes is a great idea and protects the foot from the various hard surfaces we stride over each day, the raised heel is something that we think needs to go away.
We at Eris Fit think everyone should wear the minimum drop shoe they can get away with whether engaged in athletic activity or working all day. We like to wear zero drop shoes to both work and the gym.
What Does Zero Drop Mean?
Zero drop simply is the measure of the distance of the heel off the ground versus the ball of the foot off the ground. On decent shoes, you will find the drop differential listed in the sales literature. For example, looking up a pair of Innov8 shoes on Amazon tells me that some have 0mm drop and some have 4mm drop. Most shoes list the differential in millimeters (mm).
Here’s how I made my decision.
I know that women and even men equate leather footwear to more success. So I went out and got a pair of athletic looking shoes, ones that I could get away with wearing with a suit, that were leather, and all black. These are classic enough to wear with a suit and even on stage when I give presentations, yet rugged enough to allow me to walk 2 or 3 miles to a conference venue from my hotel, or get out on a path after work and hike a few miles. They wipe down easily with a wet cloth after hiking on a dusty trail. They aren’t exactly zero drop, but they were very close and work well for me for now.
I also went out an bought a black pair of athletic ones. Again, I feel totally comfortable wearing these on an everyday basis to work and while visiting customers while traveling, Yet they are also home in the gym and on the trail. While these aren’t leather and sadly I won’t be labeled as sexy by the women who see me, they are super lightweight, easily packable and because they are black, I feel like they go with anything I typically wear and are perfect for my normal routines. When I hit an important speaking engagement and really have to represent, I’ll wear my leather athletic shoes.
While the heel looks a little raised, it is very slightly raised, but these are lightweight and near enough to flat.
Finally if I really feel the need, I’ll drag out these leather Lem’s shoes for the occasion. These are engineered for the primal, barefoot enthusiast.
My next step was to replace my Asolo hiking boots with a pair of zero drop boots to completely eliminate heels from my wardrobe. I picked up a couple pairs of boots with as near a flat sole as I could.
Finally, my gym shoes have been replaced. I didnt want to do this all at once since I had many sneakers and shoes in great shape. As they wore out I added in the minimalist shoes.
How to Transition
Don’t go cold turkey. Before you go out and buy a few pairs of zero drop shoes, spend more and more time each day barefoot. Go barefoot as much as possible at home. Take your walks, mow your lawn and spend your weekends shoeless or using the most minimal shoes or sandals you can find. I like to take my walks and mow my lawn in a pair of Teva like sandals. I also take my shoes off at work and don’t put them back on until I have to move out of my office area, like to use the restroom or visit a colleague.
Go out and buy a pair of 4mm drop shoes, or even a zero drop shoe and begin taking your walks and working in the zero drop shoe.
As your feet become accustomed to this, you can transition to zero drop athletic and dress shoes full time. We have found Innov8, Lems, Soloman and Nike make some great zero drop shoes of high quality. And of course you can always Old School it in some Chuck Taylors or Vans, in fact many powerlifters swear by these as their favorite lifting shoes. We have no relationships with any of those companies, we simply find those shoes work well. You can check out the Strong First blog for complete details on wearing Chuck Taylors for all your lifting needs.
Remember, your feet have been stuck in a compromised position for years. You aren’t going to switch to zero drop overnight and expect to be pain free. As you spend more time barefoot or in zero drop footwear, you will be using muscles in your ankles and feet that haven’t been used since you were a kid.
Take it slow and you can make the transition without injury and set yourself up for healthier ankles, feet and Achilles for the foreseeable future.